Sachi Hamai, the chief executive of Los Angeles County, will retire Monday with a $1.5 million settlement and full-time private security after accusing Sheriff Alex Villanueva of “unrelenting and brutal” harassment, according to a letter sent to the county Board of Supervisors and obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
In the letter, L.A. litigation counsel Skip Miller wrote that Villanueva’s hostility toward Hamai seemed to hit a new peak in March when the board ousted the sheriff from his top spot at the county’s emergency operations center earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Villanueva took the move as “a personal affront and castigated Ms. Hamai over it,” Miller wrote. “He lied to the press saying she denied first responders their salaries while quarantined. Incited by the Sheriff, individuals threatened to post her home address and suggested she be harmed.”
The accusations are just the latest salvo in the contentious relationship between Villanueva and the board—especially Hamai.
Hamai accused Villanueva of defamation and threatened to sue him last month after the sheriff suggested to a live Facebook audience that Hamai had committed a felony by serving on the board of the United Way of Los Angeles while it pushes a November ballot initiative that could redirect millions in funds from the Sheriff’s Department to mental health and jail diversion services.
Hamai, however, had resigned that position before the United Way board voted on the measure to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and she raised concerns about the initiative at that meeting.
As part of the settlement deal, which County Counsel Mary Wickham agreed to on August 10, Hamai will not receive severance or any other payments and forfeits her right to sue the county.
“I frankly think that if we litigated her case, a jury could have hit the county for a lot more than $1.5 million, a lot more,” Miller said.
“Giving the outgoing CEO who makes way north of half a million dollars in annual salary $1.5 million—I think that’s a gift of public money, but I’m not too sure. That’s just my opinion,” Villanueva told the Times.
Villanueva also said that Miller’s letter—labeled privileged and confidential—was sent to him anonymously and that he will be contacting the state attorney general’s office because it “looks like there was a potential theft of attorney-client product that somehow wound up in our hands as well.”
Hamai said in a statement that she was ending her 32-year career with L.A. County under a “hostile and toxic work environment created by a fellow department head,” adding, “This department head’s antagonistic statements and actions over the past several months have added needless distractions and animosity at a time that I have been working nonstop to bring our County family together to confront some of the most challenging public health and economic crises in our recent history.”
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